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Debate has raged for years over whether today's students rely too heavily on calculators. But there is general agreement that students ready for college need to know the standard math algorithms - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division - and have a deep understanding of math concepts.
They should know how to use a graphing calculator, how to compute without one and be able to determine when using one will help them solve a problem.
It's also important for students and parents to know that college instructors' policies vary widely. Some always allow students to use calculators for tests and some don't. And calculators are not allowed in the Graduate Record Exam required to enter many graduate school programs.
By GreatSchools Staff
Wilson offers this advice to parents trying to evaluate their students' math instruction:
"If a student isn't bringing home work that requires lots of manipulation and lots of word problems, then there is probably a problem," he says. "If the homework requires, instead, lots of making tables, then there is probably a problem. If the work involves a lot of use of calculators there is probably a problem."
"Calculators have their role," he adds, "I would not want someone to go back to looking up log tables and trig tables, but for things that don't absolutely require a calculator, they should not use one."
If you notice any of these questionable practices in your child's math classroom, you may want to express your concerns to the teacher and the principal.
One other cautionary note: Beware of classes in which students are allowed to pass or progress because they complete extra credit rather than demonstrate through tests and classwork that they understand the concepts.
If you have a weak math background, don't let that get in the way of your child's learning. You don't have to know the math to get a good idea of how well your child will be prepared, says NCTM President Fennell. You can ask the teacher about the content of the class. "Ask, 'Will the calculus in college be different than this?'" he suggests. "Ask the teacher, 'What is the math? Is it a repeat of math that should have already been mastered?'"
Your teenager may insist that college isn't for her. She should know that students headed straight for the work force will need the same math skills as their college-bound counterparts, according to a 2006 study by the ACT.
The study looks at occupations that don't require a college degree but pay wages high enough to support a family of four. The math and reading skill levels required to work as an electrician, plumber or upholsterer were comparable to those needed to succeed in college.
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